Those of you who have read this column over the years know that I don’t like New Year’s resolutions. For me, those resolutions are promises too easily made and too quickly forgotten.
The new year, however, is a time to reflect on endings and beginnings. That has been especially true for me this new year, following the death of my mother in early December. For the first time in my life, I begin the new year in a world without my mother in it.
Mothers and daughters often have complicated relationships. I’ve heard it said that by the time you realize that your mother was right, you’ll have a daughter who thinks you are wrong. I’ve said, and heard my friends say, in voices filled with dismayed disbelief, “I’m turning into my mother.” Rarely have we meant that in a positive way. But the death of my mother has called me to think about what I’ve learned from her, what I may have minimized or ignored about who she was, and what I’d like to continue to learn from her even though she is no longer here.
After nearly 60 years, I think I’m finally ready to say that my mom is my role model.
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It certainly has taken me a while to get to that point — again, there is that whole complicated mother/daughter relationship thing. As I was growing up, my mother was the person I began to define myself against. Not because there was a reason to do that or anything about her that elicited it, but simply because that is what children naturally do. Growing up is a process of individuation, a process of separation from ones’ parents as each of us become who we will be as adults. And sometimes, that individuation and separation process is difficult and painful for all involved. But the best parents, and I put Mom in that group, understand the process and are patient with it — and with their occasionally unpleasant and irritating children.
Now as an adult, with adult children of my own, I can say without reservation that I hope I can be like my mother. While she wasn’t perfect (someone described her as “sweetly ferocious”), she was a person of extraordinary grace. With Mom as my role model, I hope I can be as generous and giving, as compassionate and caring, as committed to the “least of these” as she was throughout her life. As my husband, who delivered the eulogy at her memorial service, said, “Jane took Jesus at his word.” Her life was spent caring for those who needed it and trying to make the world a better place.
We throw around the words “role model” pretty easily these days, referring to sports figures and celebrities, those whose lifestyles we envy. But in this new year, this time of reflection on endings and beginnings, I encourage you to ask yourself — who is your role model? Who do you want to be like? Whose actions will you emulate? For me, it will be my mom. And the next time I exclaim, “I am turning into my mother” I will send her a silent but heartfelt, “thank you.”
Anne K. Ard is the executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, 140 W. Nittany Ave., State College. Contact her at 238-7066 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.